Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul look ahead as Kentucky race closes

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks during his campaign event at Bluegrass Airport Nov. 3 in Lexington, Ky.
(Aaron P. Bernstein / Getty Images)

On a seven-city fly-around of Kentucky with fellow Sen. Rand Paul, Mitch McConnell on Monday looked beyond what has been one of the nation’s most bitter and expensive races to a future that could include prominent roles for both men – for him, perhaps as the next Senate majority leader, and for Paul, a possible run for the White House.

“I don’t believe our state has ever had two senators in a better position to influence the course of events in our country than we have right now,” McConnell told supporters at an event at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. “We’re counting on you not to give that up.”

Tuesday’s midterm election has special significance for McConnell, who is seeking not only a sixth term but a long-prized role as leader of a new Republican majority in the Senate. His deep unpopularity in the state had given Democrats an unusual pickup opportunity, particularly given a strong, disciplined campaign by Alison Lundergan Grimes, currently secretary of state.


But the McConnell campaign’s efforts to tie Grimes to President Obama have seemed to win out as polls show the Republican opening up a more comfortable, albeit still single-digit lead in the polls. McConnell acknowledged here that the 35-year-old Grimes was “a new face,” but one “for the status quo.”

“If you want to change America I’m your candidate tomorrow,” McConnell said, calling the current Democratic Senate majority a “firewall” that keeps Obama from having to confront more conservative policies passed by the Republican-led House.

“Look, we need to get the Senate back to normal and we need to pass bills,” he said. “We need to put them on his desk. We don’t know whether he’ll sign them or not, but by golly we’re going to start functioning again.”

McConnell and Paul have increasingly seemed to strike up a new alliance, years after McConnell backed a different Republican against Paul in a primary. McConnell on Monday praised Paul as the most interesting man in politics, as Time magazine recently called him.

“Nobody has done more to point out where the Republican Party ought to go into the future, to appeal to new people who do not typically identify with us,” he said.

And Paul in turn offered strong support for McConnell, both in the election and as the party’s Senate leader, saying he “will take charge from the beginning.”

“Mitch McConnell has been a leader for limited government, for constitutional government, a champion of the 1st Amendment,” Paul said. “And when it comes to unifying the Republicans in our opposition to Obamacare, there’s been no better leader.”

The latter sentiment was an indirect response to the outcry last week among some conservatives after McConnell suggested in an interview that repealing the president’s health law was improbable in the next Congress.

Grimes Monday was conducting her own last-minute blitz of the state, arguing that she was poised to shock the political world.

“We’re on our way to making history. The nation won’t believe what we’re capable of until we do it,” she said at an outdoor rally in Newport, with the Ohio River and Cincinnati skyline behind her. “This will be a photo finish. It is going to come down to every vote mattering.”

Grimes also blasted a pro-McConnell mail piece, titled “Election Violation Notice,” that her campaign said was designed to intimidate voters from turning out to polls.

“This is rock-bottom,” she said. “This is desperation.”

Former Kentucky Gov. Martha Layne Collins praised Grimes for surviving a bruising campaign.

“If nothing else you have proof: this is a strong Kentucky woman,” she said.

Follow @mikememoli for more news on the midterm elections.